I’m Moving!

Well, sort of. I’m not leaving my house or my backyard or my birds, my marsh, my community or my job. But I am moving Sola Gratia to a different hosting site.

I have a variety of reasons for making the shift, and if you’ve been a regular reader/follower here, I hope you’ll move with me!

It’s an easier switch for you than for me; all you have to do is follow this link and subscribe (it’s free!) You’ll find much of my previous writing archived there, and as I continue to jot down thoughts and observations from time-to-time, you’ll receive an email notification of any new content. I promise not to spam you with emails; my writing time has been quite limited lately, and I’m a slow process writer at the best of times!

A special thank you to all who have been faithful readers here over the years, to those who have found this space more recently, and to everyone who has encouraged me to keep writing. It is amazing how words and ideas can connect us. Thank you, thank you.

I will be closing this site permanently on October 10, so be sure to join my move before then!

☕️ My Life as a Misfit

A Saturday Caesura

Sometimes I think I should receive an honorary Masters of Misfits. Maybe even a Doctorate. My credited experience is quite extensive. For example:

  • I enjoy my tea, but don’t care for the other three socially acceptable beverages: coffee, alcohol, and soda. I know; I’m weird.
  • I enjoy a good movie, but I don’t have Netflix, Disney+, or syndicated TV, so all those shows ya’ll talk about? I haven’t got a clue.
  • I love music but generally don’t listen to contemporary pop stuff, Christian, country, or otherwise. I would totally lose any ice breaker game involving song lyrics. But then, I usually lose icebreaker games because I find them awkward and socially stressful.
  • I don’t get my nails done or colour my hair. I rarely wear makeup. My fashion sense is always a few years behind or completely off what was ever considered “in.” I have utility hands, greying hair, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get face, and a functional wardrobe. Good enough.
  • I don’t watch (or follow) sports unless it’s one of my school’s teams. In regards to professional sports, I know only what my students tell me I should know, which usually boils down to who won (or didn’t). Good enough.
  • I am not, nor ever have been, a big-circle-of-friends person. I have a few beautiful, grace-filled friends that I treasure. I don’t hoopla-fest or party with them. We do small, simple things together and that is more than enough to sustain our friendships.
  • I earned my driver’s license without parallel parking, parking on a hill with a curb, changing lanes, going through a traffic light, or driving through a school zone. But don’t tell anyone.
  • In grade seven, I had to borrow cowboy boots when I was voted queen for the rodeo organized by the blink-and-you-miss-it community we lived in. A vote, by the way, which I initially thought was a joke because the other nominee was a local rancher’s daughter who owned her own boots and everything else a girl needs to be a bona fide rodeo queen.
  • When I was a teen, I decided that my career choice would have to involve animals because I was shy and awkward and working with people, well, it just wouldn’t work. Then I became a pastor’s wife at age 20, and I currently teach high school English with an Elementary Generalist BEd degree. There have been days (years?) when I have felt like an imposter.
  • I have no pets.
  • I have never owned a dishwasher.

There are so many ways that I don’t fit some expectation or standard or ‘normalcy’. And honestly, there was a long period of my life where I felt my misfitted-ness quite acutely. Fretted and stewed about it. Tried to be the round peg in the round hole without acknowledging that I was (am!) actually rather square.

I’ve since been learning that aligning my heart-soul-mind with what God says about me makes me increasingly aware that I am deeply loved, that I have nothing to prove, and that I am absolutely free to be who God has made me to be. Any changes that need to happen (they are ongoing and many!) are the ones that bring me closer to God’s vision for me, not to what others, society, or media set as the acceptance bar. Nor do I need to curate versions of myself that meet my own expectations of someone worthy or acceptable to God or others. I don’t need to pull out the coarse sandpaper and start grinding away at all my square corners. I can simply be content with my Charis-ness as intended by God.

I know that I am not the only well-credentialed misfit. But I also know that I am not the only misfit loved by God. I mean, just look at Jesus’ disciples — rough fishermen and tax collectors and doubters and betrayers. Hardly a collection of the upstanding religious and righteous. Hardly the type of people you would expect to be entrusted with something as monumentally important as the kingdom of God. But then again, you’d hardly expect that kingdom to be ushered in by a baby born in a stable who grew up to work as a carpenter in some backwater stick-town.

If I’ve learned anything through my journey as a misfit, it’s that the term only applies to me because I have assumed it does. God has other terms for me: beloved, redeemed, forgiven.

🌿 Echoes of Eden

Stripped of winter, the land relaxes,
makes space for life to rise from its dust.
I run my hand through grass, elbow-high,
each stem bending and then bouncing back,
its suppleness an overlooked strength.
No matter the push or blow, it flows
in graceful waves along the roadside
always moving, never uprooted.
In a nearby field, stalks of wheat stand
stiffly shoulder-to-shoulder, newly-
formed heads nod politely to the breeze.
In time, heads will sway, shoulders slacken,
giving way to the ripple and roll
of an ocean green and growing gold.
Green. So much green. But not only green.
Eye-shocking yellow canola fields.
Alfalfa in white, yellow, purple.
Globes of clover in purple, white, pink.
Wild prairie roses in pink, pink, pink.
Stripped of winter, this land is free to
breathe and bloom in echoes of Eden.

Gardens and Graduates

I started my tomato plants indoors weeks ago, initially keeping them in the relative warmth and southern sunshine of a shelf in the window above the freezer in our laundry room. When they outgrew the laundry room, I jerry-rigged a clear-garbage-bag-incubator/greenhouse in the east window of the below-room-temperature upstairs bedroom. The geraniums were similarly situated in the west window by my art table.

Later, once the sunroom by the front door actually felt like a sunroom rather than a walk-in freezer, I put the tomatoes there during daylight hours, and shuffled them inside at night until the danger of freezing was past. Every time I checked, watered, or moved them, I’d run my hand through their leaves to simulate air movement and encourage them to strengthen their stems in resistance. They’d need this strong backbone to withstand the winds that cruise along the south side of the house where they would eventually spend the summer months.

Even with all my care to harden off the plants before finally transplanting them under a homemade wire-hoop-and-plastic “greenhouse,” they weren’t as resilient as I had hoped. The cool nights and early mornings weren’t a problem because of the insulating cover. Daytime exposure to direct sunlight sunburned a few tender topmost leaves, but nothing too concerning. I had even anticipated the prevailing west winds and put a stake on the east side of each of the tallest plants.

But one day a blustery wind whipped at the plastic cover and left the plants brutally exposed. All of the staked plants survived because they had the support needed to keep their still-strengthening stems from bending and breaking. Three of the shorter, un-staked plants were not so fortunate. The wind was too much for their untried youth. They bent and broke at the base of their stems.

I’ve since provided a stake for each of the remaining shorter plants.

Now, a few windy days later, all of the plants have developed thicker, hardy stems. Their roots have found purchase. They are established and growing. A few have even begun to form blossoms.

Ninety-two graduates “walked the stage” at my school last Friday. I fear that there are few of them whose stems are still too thin, too pliable and prone to easy bending and breaking. I wonder if they have the right support in the right places, supports they can lean into, supports that will hold fast. The winds of life can be gentle, but they can also become unrelenting storms. I hope that these young people have deep roots and sturdy supports. I hope their stems thicken, firm and strong and growing. I hope they don’t break. I hope — and pray. ▫️

☕️ Going in Circles

Reflection. Best of lists. Highlights. Anticipation. Resets and resolutions. So many rituals connected to the ordering our lives on the foundation of time. We live into chronology like we traverse airports on moving walkways, the past recedes as we are perpetually propelled forward. Life becomes a timeline, the significant moments labeled and dated, new years noted as harbingers of progress.

This metaphor works because it is not wholly inaccurate, but it falls short of explaining the full-orbed experience of life. Life, like time, is also cyclical. The hands on the clock circle round and round measuring minutes and hours. The earth rotates as it circles the sun, measuring days and months, seasons and years. My own life is better understood through recognizing its cycles than by resolutely marching down the number-line of accumulated age and years.

Progress occurs through returning again and again to perspectives that continually shift and grow or shrink as more learning and living inform my understanding and my choices. Growth is less linear, and more a circling back to build on what was before. Sometimes to scrap and start anew. Sometimes simply to try again. Sometimes to repeat what didn’t work last time only to experience despair or self-recrimination…again. Cycles can create ruts, and dangers lurk there to be sure.

And maybe this is why we often use the metaphor of “going in circles” to describe lack of progress, lostness, “stuckness.” We can certainly experience all of these at any given time, but what if going in circles could also mean building layers of learning, like the rings of a tree. Or patterns of beauty like the concentric circles of a chrysanthemum. Or habits of faith like the woven materials of a sturdy bird’s nest. What if going in circles means recognizing repeating seasons and being more intentional about how we cycle through them. Or, especially in our relationships with God and others, what if it means rotating on the axis of a deepening love, commitment, and understanding. What if going in circles is about growth rather than stagnation. What if.

As we spiral our way through the days and year ahead, may our circles be as wide and wondering or as narrow and tight and focused as needed to let our hearts be tilled, planted, and watered by God’s good work in us. May we return again and again to what is good and true and right, and turn away always from what is not. May our wounds gain another layer of healing. May our cycles of grief be buoyed by hope and comfort. May our ruts be filled in with the core layers of repentance, grace, humility, forgiveness, and belonging. May we collect treasures of joy and goodness in each loop and lap and curve. May we know above all, that the God who first ordered time into morning and evening, days and years makes “everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”

I’ll spend the next years of my life circling back to ponder the implications of that last sentence. Which is exactly what was intended, I think.

Here’s to going in circles…

🌐 The Flat World & Me

This flat world we hold in our palms does not spin, but it pulls us into its orbit through tap, swipe, scroll and makes our minds spin with endless images and trivial-alarming-banal-important-irrelevant information that somehow becomes real and alluring, exciting and vital.

How did we ever live before flat worlds became our whole world?

At what moment did I choose to be a spectator rather than a participant with the grit of gravel under my boots, the smudge of earth on my jeans, my face, my hands?

At what point did I sink into mere consumerism rather than developing the skill and patience of observing and notating the non-pixelated, unfiltered, uncropped?

I need the uncurated world. I need to see the forest and the logged-off cut blocks, the fields and the gas plants and pump jacks, the emerald-green lakes and the ones stale-green with algae, the wheat and the weeds. I need the lush green of meadows and rancid road-kill in ditches and delicate flowers and gooey mud and birds and rodents.

Place is all of this and more, and it is too rich and full to fit into pixels or the binary codes of the flat world. Pixels tell me nothing about the sandpaper rub of dirt between my fingers, the feathery tickle of a bird eating sunflower seeds from my hand, or the pleasant shock of the wind whipping my breath away. Binary code tells me nothing about the actual lived-life of the person who used flesh-and-blood fingers to tap the text that bubbles on my screen. However connected we are in the flat world (and we certainly are connected — often in very helpful and important ways), something is always lacking. Emoji libraries will never be large enough for our whole selves.

To know place is to be rooted in the particularity of place and people and community rather than spinning through the dizzying orbit of text-tap-swipe-scroll-snap-chat. To know place is to hold it in the muscle memory of experience, not just the visual memory of a social media feed.

To clarify, this is not meant to be a rant against technology. It would be hypocritical of me to decry what I myself use. For several years now, I have pursued a goal to understand more fully what it means to be rooted in the place where God has put me, and my words here are simply my reflection on how that is going. Sometimes I need to remind myself to stay grounded, keep my orbit small in scope but deep in wonder. The flat world invites me to a voyeuristic curiosity; being rooted in a particular place encourages the curiosity that leads to deeper knowing and understanding and gratitude.

I want to know this place better through exploring the physical world around me, whether that is by identifying birds in the marsh or bushwacking up a mountain or tending a garden or watching the snow fall in a silent parade of delicately formed flakes.

I want to know this place deeper by listening to people I can reach out and touch. I want to hear their stories — ones of origin and ones of becoming and brokenness and restoration and everything in-between. I want to be better at seeing behind the behaviours and the bravado to understand the particularities of place and experience that have shaped lives.

And very simply, the more time I spend in the flat world, the less time I have for this beautiful, wonderful, wounded, scarred, floundering and flourishing world that surrounds me on all sides. This is where I belong and I want to live here with wisdom and with grace.

📝 Living in the Mist

October is coming to a close. The leaves are rarely in the trees, mostly on the ground. Mornings and evenings are chilly and often frosty. Some days the chill stays even when the frost doesn’t — yet. Some snow has come and gone. Soon it’ll come and stay. Most mornings are shrouded in heavy fog, which makes the already dark drive to school in the morning even darker. They’ve been re-paving a section of the route I drive and haven’t repainted the lines yet, just some dots to show where the center line should be. Dark, fog, no guiding lines to reflect the boundaries of the road…feels a bit like life sometimes. We do indeed live by a kind of faith, whether we want to admit it or not, I think.

There has been much to be thankful for in this past month, but not necessarily any more or less than other months. We just are more open to a collective sort of thanks-giving when we’re given a day off work to reflect on all the things we should be grateful for and probably are, but maybe those things aren’t always the truly important things and maybe we still mostly take everything for granted. Maybe. And maybe stress and Hard Things grind the shine off our thanksgiving and we feel ashamed to be offering something so worn and bedraggled when really this sort of thanks-giving is probably the most authentic and honest of them all.

Yes, I do have much to be thankful for, and yes, my gratitude has some worn edges and stretch marks and too much of the month felt like driving through the dark in the fog on a road that still needs lines painted on. You’ll likely hear echoes of this in this month’s Jots & Doodles. I struggled to come up with an overarching theme for this issue, partly because I didn’t want to just default to thanksgiving because Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October. I want to encourage thanksgiving as an attitude of the heart beyond a certain day of a certain month. So the Jots are not connected to a theme and neither are the Doodles, for that matter, but they do reflect some of my thinking and observations over the past few weeks. I’ve been challenged and encouraged…and I’m still processing (and probably always will) what it means and what it looks like when I say that I live a life of faith in God, the only truly Faithful One.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1 Issue 10 can be found here, or by going to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu. Maybe you’ll find some words that resonate with you and encourage you. I hope so.

The Stories We Keep

One of the reasons I write is because I need to process things, to get ideas out of my head and on paper where I can begin to make sense of them or discover some new perspective. Although most of my “processing” remains in my notebooks, I write here because I want to invite others to think and ponder along with me. But we are more than just processors of ideas and questions and observations. We are storytellers and story-keepers. Our lives are anthologies of stories bound together and nestled into a larger, grander story whose opening line is “In the beginning, God…”

I keep stories that have changed my life or perspective, forged new growth or wisdom, or made me laugh or smile. Stories can do all of these and more. Above all, stories anchor me to my place in the world. From time to time, I want to revisit some of these stories, not because my life is anything special, but because, actually, it is. And so is yours.

I’ve done some housekeeping here at Sola Gratia. You’ll find a new page just for stories – some of mine, and hopefully some of yours as well. Soon you’ll also find a page just for Jots & Doodles — Volume 1 Issue 3 will be available soon!